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The Eighteen Root Bodhisattva Downfalls

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The Eighteen Root Bodhisattva Downfalls

1. Desiring devotion and fame, one disparages others.

If this happens, the first root downfall occurs and the Bodhisattva precept is lost.


2. Not giving Dharma and wealth.

This root downfall occurs in a situation in which one has certain knowledge of Dharma and/or certain material objects which one is able to give away but, out of miserliness, one docs not do so when requested.


3. Not listening, even when there is an apology.

This occurs when another person has done something against oneself, but afterwards comes with regret to apologize, saying, "This was my mistake・ Please forgive me. I apologize/9 Not listening or not accepting the apology and even responding with greater anger is the committing of this root downfall.

As one listens to these various downfalls, it is important to keep in mind the general context of the Bodhisattva's way of life motivated by the attitude of cherishing others more than oneself・ In this context, one should understand each individual precept・ Further, it should be understood that a

Bodhisattva offers prayers that others might not direct mental distortions such as anger, attachment and jealousy toward himself or herself・ This is a very frequent prayer that Bodhisattvas make・ One can see how this relates to the downfall here. If one refuses to accept the apology, it is very likely

that that person will respond with anger or some other mental distortion, which would be very detrimental for him or her. This is a prayer we too should make ・ that other people not direct such mental distortions towards ourselves. These prayers do come to fruition, particularly as we draw close to full entlightenment.


4. The abandoning of Mahayana

This occurs by abusing or disparaging the Mahayana


5. Stealing the possessions of the Three Jewels

This can be in a very open or direct manner ・ simply stealing things that belong to the Buddha. Dharma and Sangha, or by devious means of trickery or deceit


6. Abandoning Dharma

This especially relates to the attitude of abandoning the Mahayana teachings. Denying that the Mahayana Tripitaka, in particular, are the real teachings of the Buddha incurs this downfall・


7. Stealing the saffron robes

This involves:


a. beating a monk as a punishment regardless of whether he is pure in moral discipline or not,

b・ stealing his robes or actually taking his robe away from him, c. taking away or robbing him of his ordination. Any of these three cases involves a root downfall.

8. Enactment of any of the five heinous crimes:

a. killing one's mother (one's mother in this life),

b. killing one's father,

c. killing an Arhat (a Liberated Being),

d. drawing the blood of a Buddha with malice (not like taking a medical sample, but with a wish to harm),

e. causing a schism in the Sangha・ This occurs when one intentionally creates divisions and disharmony among the Sangha


It is stated that if one commits this downfall, then even the grass in the area where such a person lives dries up. This last one is a very serious unwholesome act.

If one commits one of these five heinous crimes, even if one tries to meditate for 12 years, no kind of samadhi will arise・ It would act as a tremendous obstacle to one's spiritual growth.


9. Holding false views

This would be holding a view which denies the workings of karma (actions and their results) and of former and later births


10. Destroying villages or towns

This comes into question when one has developed supernormal powers, since with them one could destroy an entire city. If one has such powers and uses them to that effect, then one incurs this downfall.


11. Teaching emptiness to those whose minds are untrained

12. Turning away from full enlightenment

This occurs when one has already taken the Bodhisattva vow or precept resolving to attain enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings and has practiced, to some extent, the six perfections. Then, after some time, one grows discouraged with the practice and thinks, "Oh, it does not look like I'll ever be able to attain enlightenment. How will I ever be able to do that?" Turning away from that aspiration and directing oneself rather to the attainment of a Sravaka or Pratyeka Arhat, one commits this root downfall. Having taken the Bodhisattva precept, one should maintain one*s courage and mental fortitude, keeping a very strong aspiration to serve the needs of sentient beings.


13. Abandoning the precepts of individual liberation (pratimoksha precepts)

Some people who do not understand Dharma or some young people may think that these pratimoksa vows (such as the monastic vows) arc only for people who seek to become Sravaka Arhats or Pratyekabuddhas and that they are not for followers of the Mahayana. They may consider these precepts unnecessary or of no use. The precepts of individual liberation are, in fact, an extremely important foundation for the entire Mahayana path. It is a big mistake to think that these are just for another path. These vows of individual liberation are very highly praised in the Root Kalacakra Tantra.


14. Holding the notion that through the practice of the Sravaka or Pratyeka path it is not possible to completely eradicate such mental distortions as attachment.


This shows the variety of misconceptions that might arise. Though one might think this, it is certain that through the practice of the Sravaka and Pratyekabuddha paths one can completely eradicate these mental distortions as has been proven countless times in the past by great Arhats, such as Sariputra and Maudgalyayana


15. Speaking falsely

What this actually refers to is a situation in which one has not gained realization of emptiness, but makes a pretense of having realized this and tells people, "You must meditate very weH on emptiness and if you do, you will gain direct realization like I have." As soon as one utters these words, deceiving others in this way, and the words are understood by them, this root downfall is committe d・

A downfall occurs in a situation where one is teaching the Dharma and reciting the scriptures to others desiring their devotion and respect as well as a great reputation for oneself. Not admitting this pretention but, instead, maintaining that one's own motivation is pure while pointing to others and

saying, "That person over there is teaching out of a desire for devotion and great reputationone incurs a downfall. It should be clear that this is a downfalk but it is not enumerated among the 18 root Bodhisattva downfalls. It is included implicitly in the first of the 18 root Bodhisattva downfalls ・ praising oneself and abusing others・


16. The situation in which a person in some position of power, such as a king or a minister, robs the Sangha of its possessions

This could be offerings which are in the temple for the Sangha to eat, food that the Sangha has, other possessions of the Sangha such as their scriptures, or money belonging to the temple. Imagine that a king or some minister robs the Sangha of these, then offers them to someone else, say a Bodhisattva・ If that Bodhisattva should accept these offerings from the king, he or she commits this root downfall.


17. Imagine a situation in which there is a person who

is very seriously engaged in the practice of meditation, particularly the cultivation of mental stabilization, a patron who wishes to make an offering to this contemplative, and a third person acting as a messenger, who is actually supposed to deliver the offering. Then imagine this messenger not liking the person who is practicing dhyana; he receives the gifts for the contemplative, but instead of giving them to him, gives them to another person who is simply reciting texts and doing oral recitations. If one does this, one commits the root downfall.


18. Discarding bodhicitta

These arc the 18 root Bodhisattva downfalls. For 16 out of these 18 to occur, they must occur in conjunction with the same four binding factors which were explained previously with regard to the tantrie precepts [see page 29]. The remaining two (of these 18) for which the four binding factors are not necessary are:


a. holding false views

b・ discarding bodhicitta


If either of these two takes place, even without the four binding factors, the root Bodhisattva downfall still occurs.


The 16 root downfalls do not occur in the absence of all four of the binding factors. However, one should not have the mistaken notion that if the four

binding factors are absent, there is no fault at all. There is, in fact, a very great fault; it is simply not the complete root downfall・ Still, it places extremely unwholesome imprints upon the mind.

This can be likened to another situation in which, let us say, one has a very strong intent to kill someone and maintains that intent but, for some reason or another, is not able to do it. In this case, the full act of killing a human being does not occur. Nevertheless, having that motivation is extremely

deleterious to one's own welfare. All of us here, having taken these Bodhisattva precepts and engaging in the Mahayana Dharma practice, should keep very well in mind these 18 root Bodhisattva downfalls and guard against them.


There are also 46 secondary Bodhisattva faults. There is no time to go into them now, but it is very important to receive teachings and know them. When the opportunity presents itself, or you make the opportunity, you should try to receive these teachings・ Again, be aware of the very fine situation you have

here being able to have contact with the great Lama Dagchen Rinpoche・ If this were Tibet, it would be very, very hard to meet him personally. Here, it is obviously much easier.


The Three Methods With Regard to the Bodhisattva Precepts

1. The Method for Receiving the Precepts for Those Who Have Not Yet Received Them

One should receive the Bodhisattva precepts from a qualified Mahayana spiritual master endowed with the ten qualities and who holds the Bodhisattva precepts.


a. The mind of such a master should be subdued through the practice of moral discipline [Skt・ Sila; Tib. tshul.khrims].

b. The mind of such a master is made peaceful through the cultivation of meditative stabilization [Skt・ samadhi; Tib. ting.nge/dzin].

c. The mind of the master is made yet more peaceful through the cultivation of wisdom (Skt・ prajna; Tib. shes.rab].


The first three of these ten qualities involves the master's cultivation of the Three Higher Trainings


The spiritual master should be:

d・ of greater attainment than the disciple,


e. one who enthusiastically serves the needs of .others, f・ rich in knowledge of the scriptures. This means that he/she should have received many Dharma teachings

g・ The next quality involves the realization of suchness, that is, the realization of emptiness・ If possible, the actual rcaliza・ tion should be there or at least a correct conceptual understanding so that it can be taught properly.

h・ The spiritual master should be skilled in speaking.

This refers to teaching the Dharma. This makes a very great difference in terms of the effectiveness with which the spiritual master can guide the disciples.


Looking to the ancient past in India, it is said that the foremost of teachers was Vasubandhu; the foremost of debators were Dignaga and his spiritual son Dharmakirti; and the foremost in composition was A^vaghosa. Once Dharmakirti went to a king who asked him, "Who is the greatest sage in all the land?"

Dharmakirti replied, "The one who is greatest in intelligence is Master Dignaga; the greatest in composition is Asvaghosa; the greatest in rhetoric, in very beautiful writing is Chandragomin; but the one who is supreme in all directions is myself." The king replied, “Is it then you who is the greatest in all the land?" And Dharmakirti said, ^You might say so.^^ It can be seen that Dharmakirti was an extremely self-confident type of person.

He wrote in another verse, "When the sun of Dharmakirti sets (when he passes away), the Buddha-Dharma will be in a very pathetic situation. It will be as if it were going to sleep or were dying out altogether. Then what non-Dharmic elements will arise and take over?" What he was saying was that after he had

passed away, there would come many people disputing the teachings of the Buddha and that there would not be anyone to answer them and defeat them in debate. He was a very fine debat or. It is said that he brought approximately 100,000 people to Buddhism

Still going off on a bit of a tangent (just for fun), looking again at the text Pramanavarttika by Dharmakirti, he writes, 4€A1I of the rivers find their source in the ocean, and all of the rivers go back into the ocean. Likewise, in this text that I have composed, the Pramanavarttika, all the reasonings are

to be found and these are sent out, but those of weaker intelligence will not be able to understand them. So, eventually all of them will just come back to me again," namely, from the ocean out, and then back to the ocean ・ himself. In fact, Pramanavarttika is very difficult to understand. One of his

disciples, perhaps his foremost disciple, tried to write a commentary to it and showed one of his first attempts to his Guru, Dharmakirti, who looked it over and tossed it in the water. Then the disciple wrote a second one. Dharmakirti looked that one over and tossed it in the fire. The disciple wrote a

third one. Dharmakirti read it, mused for a while, and finally said, "Well, you've gotten the general meaning. It is a good 'meaning commentary' but, as for a word・by-word commentary, you still have not made it." So it is very difficult to understand.


One of the doctrinal advisors of His Holiness the Dalai Lama was Mongolian. He read over the Pramanavarttika and was so deeply impressed by it that as he was reading, he kept saying to himself, "This man could not be a Cittamatrin!" (Cittamatra is not the highest school of Buddhist philosophy.) Again and again, he would say to himself, 4tHe could not be a Cittamatrin ... He could not be a Cittamatrin. Keeping in mind that Dharmakirti was a very highly realized tantric master who had visions of Cakrasamvara, the Mongolian Geshe stated, "If one looks at the lines of reasoning of Dharmakirti in the Pramanavarttika, in relationship to the Cakrasamvara Root Tantra, it seems impossible that the author of these lines did not understand emptiness in its final depth of realization.

The great Sakya Panchen, out of his kindness, wrote Tsad.ma.r-igs,gter, which is a commentary to the Pramanavarttika^ where he very clearly elucidates the thoughts of Dharmakirti. The same master Sakya Panchen first caused the Buddha-Dharma to flourish in Mongolia, so, he is especially kind in this regard. The life story of the Sakya Panchen is really awe-inspiring to read. To take one instance, while he was once dreaming, he received a complete


teaching on Vasubandhu's Abhidharmakosa from Vasubandhu himself. When he awoke the next morning, he had complete and profound understanding of the text. In his ordinary appearance he had many such astounding accomplishments as this, but, in actual reality, Sakya Panchen was Manjusri himself.


One account from the life of His Holiness, the present Dalai Lama, is something not often spoken of. and never in public・ During the daytime he would be reading the scriptures and, sometimes, he would have some uncertainty or some qualms on certain points. At night he would go to bed and in his dreams all

of the points about which he had uncertainty would become clear and the next morning all uncertainty would be gone ・ There are many other things that are equally awe・inspiring concerning his life too. Going back to the ten qualities of a fully qualified Mahayana master:


i・ The master must be a being of compassion and must particularly have compassion for the disciples

j. The master must abandon depression or discouragement. This is specifically with regard to teachings, and more specifically, with regard to teaching very dull-witted disciples with whom the same point will have to be gone over again. and again, an<J again ... No matter how often the master has to go over the same points, there never appears any depression or discouragement.

Here is one example from my own experience. There was a monk who was at the Jhang>guncho, a place in Tibet where monks from the great monastic universities

in central Tibet would come to debate on logic and epistomology. Two other lamas and I were simply trying to teach this monk three definitions, the longest being one full sentence. We were three teachers working with one disciple for a period of six weeks trying to teach him the three definitions which are

absolute basic fundamentals of logic, and we failed. This, once again, is a case when one needs great perseverance and vigor against depression. Another account from the sutras concerns Arya Lamchung, who was born of the Brahmin caste and who was, as a youth, trained in the Vedas, the Brahmanical literature. However, as


much as he was trained he simply did not understand them and his teachers threw him out. He wandered around for awhile, encountered some Buddhists, and studied with an Arhat who tried to teach him the fundamentals of Buddhism. He tried, and tried, and tried but Lamchung still was not able to understand.

So, he was taken by the hair and again thrown out. Wandering around, he was thinking, "I am not a Brahmin^ and now maybe I am not even a Buddhist. What am I?" While he was wandering around weeping the Buddha encountered him and asked him, “What is your problem? What are you crying for?" Lamchung told him how

he was thrown out of here, and chucked out of there, and still did not know anything and was too stupid to learn anything・ The Buddha said, "Do not be depressed・ The Arhat who tried to help you is a relative of mine but he does not have the same realization as myself. He has neither cleared away all

obstructions to full enlightenment nor has he gained the degree of knowledge that I have・ I can see that there is still some hope/' So, the Buddha took him in hand and taught him two phrases: Clear out the dust, clear out the stains." When Lamchung memorized “clear out the dust," he could not remember

clear out the stains," and when he remembered “clear out the stains/' he would forget "clear out the dust." He could not juggle both in his mind at the same time. Seeing this, the Buddha put him to work in a temple where he would be sweeping out and acting as a servant for the elder of the temple. One day,

as he was sweeping he took the broom in hand and understanding [the point] he said, “The actual dust is not the dirt but it is the mental distortions. The actual stains are the mental distortions.By taking the broom in hand he gained direct realization of emptiness, became an Arya, and went on to become an Arhat

Taking this as an example, regardless of one's own evaluation of one’s intelligence5 one should not grow depressed but see that with perseverance and enthusiasm one can progress・ Lamchung, also known as Lamten, became one of the Sixteen Arhats・ It is said that he became the finest of the teachers among the Sixteen.


Those are the ten qualities of a fully qualified Mahayana master from whom one should receive the precepts

2. The Method for Preventing Degeneration of Bodhisattva Precepts Which Have Already Been Taken


Here is a brief explanation of the 'four black actions9 and the lour white actions/ Through avoiding the former and following the latter one is prevented from being separated from bodhicitta in future lives・ It is very important that one maintains this aspiration from life to life. Toward this end it is very important to offer prayers that one may have a continuous cultivation of the awakening mind.


a. The Four Black Actions

1) Lying to and deceiving one's spiritual mentor.


2) Discouraging others in their practice of virtue. This can occur when one looks upon another person engaging in Dharma practice and says, "What are you wasting your time on this for when you could be out making money and really having some success?*1 If one speaks in this way it is a black action - something to be avoided ・

3) Speaking unpleasant, harsh words out of anger to a Bodhisattva.

4) Tricking sentient beings out of a motivation other than the superior intent (which is a motivation just preceding bodhi* citta). These are the four black actions to be avoided and should be held well in mind.


b. The Four White Actions


1) Avoiding lying even for the sake of a jest. That is, not lying in order to bring even a laugh.

2) Instilling others not only with delight in their practice, but guiding them towards the Mahayana path rather than to lesser paths.

3) Looking upon all sentient beings as being the 'Teacher' (Tib. ston.pa).


4) Dealing very straightforwardly with all sentient beings out of the motivation of the superior intent. These four points should be clearly understood as methods designed to prevent the degeneration of the Bodhisattva precepts which have already been taken.

3. The Methods for Restoring the Bodhisattva Precepts Which Have Degenerated Various methods have been designed for the restoration of the Bodhisattva precepts which have degenerated.


a. One method is to go to one's spiritual mentor and take the Bodhisattva precepts again. In fact, it occurs very frequently that at least some of the

46 secondary faults do occur.


b. If this is not possible, then one simply visualizes the Buddha and the Bodhisattvas in the space before one and takes the Bodhisattva precepts in their presence.


c. The third method involves a specific Bodhisattva prayer of confession for the restoration of the precepts


It is very good that on this Saturday afternoon of this weekend holiday, when you could have been out having fun in the park or having a picnic, you are here having your "picnic of listening to the Dharma^^ and learning about all the root downfalls. This is far more beneficial.

The mind is of foremost importance since it is through the activity of the mind that one reaches either full enlightenment or one of the lower realms of animals, spirits or hell>beings・ One should study and listen to these teachings with the motivation of attaining full enlightenment in the form of Kalacakra for the benefit of all creatures. If one does so, then listening for even five minutes has very great benefit.

One should keep the pledges and precepts as best as one can. Among the precepts and pledges that have already been explained, one should recognize those that one is able to keep now and keep them. For those that one is presently unable to keep, rather than simply discarding them with the thought, "I cannot

keep these!" one should recognize one's present inability and offer prayers that, in the future, through the further ripening of one's own mind, one will be able to keep all of them perfectly. In this way, keep them in mind and maintain them as well as possible・


As far as the long-term view of eventually being able to keep all of the precepts is concerned, the mind certainly has this capacity. The Indian Bodhisattva Santideva explains in his great text, The Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life, that the Buddha, whose teachings are true and without deception or deceit, has said that even insects have the ability to attain full enlightenment because they have Buddha-Nature・ Consequently, if this is true of insects, it goes without saying that human beings, who are endowed with the ability to recognize and avoid that which is unwholesome and cultivate that

which is wholesome, have the ability to attain full enlightenment. If there is the enthusiasm, if there is the effort, then full enlightenment can be attained.


It is a wonderful and rare opportunity to be able to practice tantra because it is so very special. When the Buddha Maitreya appears, the human life-span will be 80,(XX) years. Buddha Maitreya himself will remain in this world for 60,00() years. During


that time he will have an exceedingly great number of Sravaka Arhats among his disciples, a far greater number than those who were with the Buddha Sakyamuni.1 Nevertheless, despite the fact that the Buddha Maitreya will remain so long and have so many disciples, he will not teach tantra. The reason

for this is that due to the great degree of pleasure and happiness in that existence, they will neither be inclined toward nor suitable to receive it. The nature of human existence will be very different then ・ At the present time, however, disciples are very good and fit for tantric practice


In order to bring one's practice to its culmination, it is necessary to have a constant and evergrowing practice of Dharma・ For example, when one is filled with happiness during the good times, one should avoid acting like people who think that because they are feeling good they can do without Dharma.

They get hppy-go-lucky and carefree, just enjoying the good times, not giving any time to spiritual practice. Instead, one should recognize that well-being is a result of one's former wholesome, virtuous actions. This recognition should impel one to further spiritual practice

Likewise, there are those who in times of misfortune, be it of poverty, sickness, suffering and so forth, feel, "Oh, I can't practice Dharma now, things are too bad.^^ They are simply too depressed to engage in any practice. This is also a problem・ During such times one should recognize misery to be the

result of one's previous non-virtuous action and let this recognition impel one to avoid acting in such non-virtuous ways in the future. So, regardless of the situation, one should use it as an aid to one's spiritual practice and, in this way, the practice can proceed to its culmination.

In order to engage in an authentic practice of tantra, as explained repeatedly in the past by such great masters as Sakya Pandita, it is necessary to cultivate the common path・ This should be done in the following way: first, focus on the cultivation of renunciation; following this, the generation of

bodhicitta; next, the realistic view; then, the stage of generation, bringing to culmination both its gross and subtle aspects; and finally, the stage of completion. This is the manner in which practice should be


carried out in order to gain actual realization・ Initially, it is essential to recognize that the cultivation of renunciation, bodhi-citta and the realistic view are indispensable for the practice of Dharma.


The importance of this point is illustrated in an account of a very great Tibetan lama, Purchog Jampa Rinpoche, who was an emanation of Maitreya. Once, he was giving the Guhyasamaja, Cakrasamvara and Vajrabhairava empowerments in the Jowo Khang, the central temple of Lhasa・ On that occasion, Changkya Rolpe Dorje, another extremely erudite lama in Tibet, came to receive the empowerments with a circle of his own disciples, among whom were many well-learned geshes・ All of these disciples had gathered there to receive the empowerments and, as the transmission began, Purchog Jampa Rinpoche started by giving a

very extensive teaching of the Lam Rimy the basic instructions on the cultivation of renunciation, bodhicitta and realistic view. One of the geshe-disciples of Changkya Rolpe Dorje commented [as an aside] that it seemed like Purchog Jampa Rinpoche did not know tantra very well because, instead tof

teaching tantra as he should have been doing, he was giving instructions on more fundamental material. But, Changkya Rolpe Dorje put his hands together and said, "The Great Purchog Jampa Rinpoche is a master who combines the qualities of erudition and direct insight, illustrating his profound realization of

the very essential meaning of the Dharma・ It is because of the indispensa・ bility of these three factors that he is stressing them so much." Because they are so vital, many of the Kadampa geshes have said that if one is deficient in these three aspects and engages, for example, in the vase-like meditation on

the retention of the breath, it has no more significance than the bellows used for a fire; and even if one is engaging in a very elaborate practice of the stage of generation, it has no more significance than walking around a temple and looking at all the pictures.


To further illustrate this, the stage of generation and the stage of completion are found, in their entirety, in non-Buddhist practices such as the Hindu tantras. Missing in these non-Buddhist practices, however, are renunciation, bodhicitta and realistic view, which are found in Buddhist tantra. Tantra without the three principles of the path is like tii2 without butter - it just does not hold together. If one is practicing the stage of generation and completion without bodhicitta, one will not be able to attain even the lower stage of the Mahayana path of accumulation. In fact, it will not even be a Mahayana practice.


The profound significance of bodhicitta with regard to the practice of tantra can be seen in the life of At疋a. He had a total of 155 gurus, many of whom gave him tantric empowerments. However, although he had faith in these lamas, above all of them, he had the greatest reverence for Serlingpa, the lama from

whom he received the oral transmission of bodhicitta. He had such reverence that whenever he would utter his name he would put his hands together in obeisance and tears would flow from his eyes. This account illustrates how bodhicitta is the very life-force of all Dharma, both the sutra and tantra practices.


[With the three principles of the path as a foundation,] one should not be discouraged in the practice of Kalacakra, feeling that it is too complicated,

too difficult, or that the visualization is too intricate with the different faces, many arms and so on. One should not become discouraged, fall into despair and give up, thinking, "Oh, I'll never be able to do that!" If one becomes accustomed to practicing it, one's ability increases. We can see this in

other fields, such as making music or songs and so forth, where people practice, learn the words and, in the course of time, become very adept・ If this is possible for music, then it is applicable here as well. Slowly, the ability increases・

Likewise, in the beginning, understanding the meaning of the Buddha's scriptures is quite difficult. It is easy to feel discouraged, thinking that one just cannot understand what is being said. But, if one persists, after a while, one gets a little bit of understanding. And if one goes further and penetrates

more deeply, there conies good understanding. Finally, one gains limitless understanding devoid of all obstructions. This was stated by the great Kadampa Geshe Potowa who was one of the three prominent disciples of Dromtonpa anU who was said to have been a manifestation of Manjushri



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